Good morning! It’s April Fool’s Day — try not to get too crazy out there.
Saber-rattling –> Russian military drills 150 miles east of Finland are making the Finns nervous, report Alexander Smith, Alastair Jamieson and Albina Kovalyova for NBC News. On the other hand, The New York Timeswrites, “…the German government released a statement saying [Vladimir] Putin told Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone call that he had ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern border, a source of great tension with Western governments in recent weeks.”
Torture didn’t help find Bin Laden –> So concludes that controversial Senate report on the CIA’s Bush-era War on Terror programs, according to the AP. Another Cheney talking point bites the dust.
Kleptocracy –> In Arizona, lobbyists approved nearly $1 million in funding for a private prison company that lobbyists pushed for but state prison officials said they didn’t need. Craig Harris and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report for The Arizona Republic.
Reverse revolving door –> A former Motorola saleswoman in charge of a “government agency overseeing funding for emergency communication projects in the San Francisco Bay Area” relied on “significant misrepresentations” to hand her old employer a $50 million contract with little competition, according to McClatchy’s Greg Gordon and Lydia Mulvany.
Deeply held principles? –> Molly Redden reports for MoJo that Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund is invested in contraception manufacturers.
Pot won’t save Dems –> At AlterNet, Steven Rosenfeld says that while having marijuana legalization on a ballot does increase turnout, it won’t be an issue in enough states to make much difference in this year’s midterms.
Environmentalism pays –> California utility customers will receive credits representing their share of the money raised by the state’s cap-and-trade system. David Baker reports for The San Francisco Chronicle.
Call it North Carolina, West –> James Oliphant with an interesting #LongRead in National Journal about how the far-right took over Arizona’s government.
Chilling dissent –> Charles Davis reports for Vice on a fruitless but intimidating two-year FBI investigation of nonviolent political activists in the Midwest.
Why are we paying their workers? –> At The Nation, Michelle Chen argues that the $2.13 federal minimum wage for tipped workers is a huge ripoff for both workers and restaurant patrons.
Millennial “wealth-gap” –> “For households headed by someone 40 years old or younger, wealth adjusted for inflation remains 30 percent below 2007 levels on average,” reports Jeanna Smialek for Bloomberg.
Reprieve — We told you last week about the Mississippi woman who was scheduled to be executed for a murder to which her son had confessed. Fortunately, the state’s Supreme Court ordered a new trial, reports Arturo Garcia at The Raw Story.
Corporate-Americans tussle over beliefs –> OKCupid has blocked Firefox browsers from accessing its site after Firefox manufacturer Mozilla appointed a new CEO who had been a vocal supporter of California’s anti-gay Prop 8. Sam Biddle has the story for ValleyWag.
“The brighter side of spite” –> Evolutionary researchers are looking at how spite may have played a role “in the origin of admirable traits like a cooperative spirit and a sense of fair play.” Natalie Angier reports for the NYT.
Good morning — and a happy 66th birthday to Al Gore! Here are some of the stories we’re reading on a gloomy Monday morning in NYC…
Stat of the day: 84 percent — share of Virginia voters who favor the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. Voters are about evenly divided on legalization for recreational use, reports Rebecca Shabad for The Hill.
“A threat to security, food and humankind” –> The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report “raised the threat of climate change to a whole new level on Monday,” reports Suzanne Goldenberg for The Guardian.
The real costs of war –> Almost 40 percent of the 2.6 million veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show symptoms of PTSD and half of them say they know a fellow vet who’s attempted suicide. Those are just two of the eye-opening revelations from an exhaustive survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. WaPo’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports.
The whales win –> In a decisive victory for our cetacean friends, the International Court of Justice ruled that controversial Japanese whale hunts in the Antarctic are not about scientific research and ordered Japan to revoke any scientific permits it’s issued. Andrew Darby has the details at The Sydney Morning Herald.
PC police –> Chris Christie was giving a rip-roaring pro-Israel speech to a group of Jewish conservatives, including megadonor Sheldon Adelson, when he mentioned the “Occupied Territories.” A murmur reportedly went through the room and Christie later apologized to Adelson for using the internationally recognized language. Kenneth Vogel reports for Politico. ALSO: Juan Cole on the “shame” of American politicians trekking out to Las Vegas to participate in what’s become known as “the Adelson primary.”
They don’t want your vote –> Steven Yaccino and Lizette Alvarez report for the NYT on the “new GOP bid to limit voting in swing states” — measures beyond voter ID that “shake up fundamental components of state election systems.”
Sold out –> “New York City charter schools will now enjoy some of the greatest protections in the country,” reports Fox News, and will be barred from charging the privately operated schools rent for space in public buildings thanks to a state budget worked out by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Bush v. Clinton again? –> Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa report for WaPo: “Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race.”
Whistling past the graveyard –> At The American Prospect, Adam Lioz ties the Supreme Court majority’s view that money isn’t a corrupting influence in politics to our spiraling inequality.
Union-busting for God –> At In These Times, Bruce Vail looks at a Jewish school that’s claiming a religious exemption to the National Labor Relations Act in a case that Vail calls the “Hobby Lobby of union-busting.”
Somalia piracy is so last decade –> Last year there were seven pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia — none successful — and 107 in the Malacca Straight between Indonesia and Malaysia, making it the world’s new piracy hotspot according to Patrick Winn at The Global Post.
Two justice systems –> At The Raw Story, Tom Boggioni reports that a Delaware judge granted parole to an heir to the Du Pont fortune who was found guilty of raping his daughter because the defendant, according to his ruling, “will not fare well” in prison.
Hoax –> A story about British researchers cloning a dinosaur circulated quickly on the internet over the weekend, but it turns out to have been a rather obvious hoax.
Good morning! Thirty-five years ago today, the Unit 2 reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant came perilously close to melting down. On a lighter note, it’s also National Something on a Stick Day — you know what to do!
Stat of the day: Six million — number of people who have signed up for private insurance coverage through Obamacare’s exchanges, according to the White House. At least another four million have been deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program through the exchanges.
Two Americas –> But Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear report for the NYT that the health care law is working very differently in different states, depending largely but not entirely on their ideological balance.
Nearly illegal –> A good way to describe abortion in Texas after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state’s draconian clinic regulations, which have effectively closed all rural abortion clinics. Chuck Lindell reports for the Austin American-Statesman.
A broader agenda –> Eli Clifton reports for Salon that Hobby Lobby is quietly “pumping tens of millions” into funding “a political network of activist groups deeply engaged in pushing a Christian agenda into American law.”
Externalities –> A RAND Corporation study finds that “each shale gas well in Pennsylvania causes between $5,400 and $10,000 in damage to state roads.” Marie Cusick reports for NPR’s StateImpact.
It’s just a movie –> MoJo’s Asawin Suebsaeng looks at religious conservatives’ opposition to Darren Aronofsky’s new flick, Noah.
Stalwart conservative raises taxes –> But only for those in the bottom fifth of the economic pile, and only in order to give huge cuts to the richest. That’s what CBPP’s analysis of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s deep cuts revealed, according to the WaPo’s Niraj Chokshi.
Dynasty –> At the LAT, NYU historian Jonathan Zimmerman laments the fact that we’ve only had one presidential election without either a Bush or a Clinton on a ticket in the last 34 years.
Ready for some balanced coverage? –> Talking Points Memo’s new “Ideas Lab” science section is being sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — a lobby group. FAIR’s Jim Naureckas finds that problematic.
Tragic in so many ways –> A homeless Arizona woman left her two children, aged two and six, in her car while she went for a job interview because she had nowhere else to leave them. ThinkProgress’s Annie-Rose Strasser reports that she was arrested on two counts of felony child abuse and lost custody of the kids.
Living history –> Andrew Brown’s 96-year-old mother may be the last living codebreaker from Bletchley Park, the legendary World War II unit that decoded Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma ciphers. At The Guardian, Brown writes that she never saw herself as a hero, and in fact hasn’t spoken much about those times.
Sci-fi, but real –> Helen Thompson reports for The New Scientist that physicians will attempt to save the lives of ten critically wounded gunshot or stabbing victims by rapidly cooling their bodies and putting them into “suspended animation” in order to give surgeons time to repair damage that would otherwise prove lethal.
The nation’s most segregated schools aren’t in the deep south — they’re in New York, according to a report released Tuesday by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project.
That means that in 2009, black and Latino students in New York “had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools,” in which white students made up less than 10 percent of enrollment and “the lowest exposure to white students,” wrote John Kucsera, a UCLA researcher and Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor and the project’s director. “For several decades, the state has been more segregated for blacks than any Southern state, though the South has a much higher percent of African American students,” the authors wrote. The report, New York State’s Extreme School Segregation, looked at 60 years of data up to 2010, from various demographics and other research.
There’s also a high level of “double segregation,” Orfield said in an interview, as students are increasingly isolated not only by race, but also by income: the typical black or Latino student in New York state attends a school with twice as many low-income students as their white peers. That concentration of poverty brings schools disadvantages that mixed-income schools often lack: health issues, mobile populations, entrenched violence and teachers who come from the least selective training programs. “They don’t train kids to work in a society that’s diverse by race and class,” he said. “There’s a systematically unequal set of demands on those schools.” MORE
Good morning! Here in New York, they’re forecasting a stretch of ten days with temperatures in the mid-40s to low-60s. We didn’t make The Weather Channel’s, “Ten Cities That Barely Survived the Winterpocalypse” list, but like many in the Northeast and Midwest, we’ve been wondering if spring would ever come. The answer appears to be: maybe!
Speaking of which –> Sen. Elizabeth Warren relied on a study examining around 20,000 cases from the last 65 years to conclude, “the five conservative justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are in the top 10 most pro-corporate justices in more than half a century.”
Big-time corruption alleged –> Democratic California state Sen. Leland Yee, whom many believed had aspirations to higher office, was indicted on charges of corruption and gun trafficking(!) after an FBI sting operation. A reporting crew of Josh Richman, Howard Mintz, Jessica Calefati and Robert Salonga has the story for the San Jose Mercury News.
And they’re not even joking –> Patrick Graham reports for Reuters that “after months of revelations on alleged collusion and market manipulation,” the “troubled” foreign exchange industry is defending its longstanding claim that “self-regulation” is as effective as actual regulation.
Didn’t see that one coming –> The National Labor Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that college athletes at Northwestern University are employees, and have a right to form a union. ESPN’s Brian Bennett calls it “a potentially game-changing moment for college athletics.”
Georgia clown car –> MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin went down to the Peach State to take in the GOP Senate primary, where all five candidates are trying to prove that they’re the real conservative in the field.
Toxic profits –> Tim Murphy reports for MoJo that a massive chemical spill is poised to wipe one Louisiana town entirely off the map.
If a progressive budget falls in the woods… –> At TNR, Danny Vinik laments the fact that the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget “isn’t part of the conversation,” and tries to remedy the problem with a Q & A with Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.
Plus ça change… –> The construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., drew protests, death threats, vandalism and a suspected arson attack. Now plans to build an adjacent cemetery are eliciting another round of Islamophobic hatred from local tea partiers, who reportedly turned on a black reporter during a heated courthouse confrontation with mosque supporters. David Ferguson reports for The Raw Story.
A painful debate in MA –> While the inclusion of a rabidly anti-gay candidate in a Massachusetts gubernatorial forum on LGBT issues may have been painful for some observers to watch, it couldn’t have compared to the pain felt by Democratic state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who passed a kidney stone during the proceedings, according to The Boston Globe’s Akilah Johnson.
Profile in courage –> “Anti-gay Catholic League president Bill Donohue” thought he had a smart response to the controversy surrounding the exclusion of LGBT groups from the Saint Patrick’s Day parade: he applied to march in New York’s Gay Pride parade, expecting to be turned down. But when organizers turned the tables by embracing him with open arms, Donohue mumbled something about homosexual indoctrination and chickened out, according Christopher Mathias at Huffpo.
Now you can get our Morning Reads delivered to your inbox every weekday! Just enter your email address below…
Good morning! Happy National Spinach Day, and a happy 83rd birthday to Leonard Nimoy! He’s lived long and he’s prospered.
Stat of the day: 69 percent — share of voters who say they would be “more likely to vote in an election if a proposal to legalize marijuana was on the ballot,” according to a new George Washington University Battleground poll. Via HuffPo.
A day at the court –> Ian Millhiser watched oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, and reports for ThinkProgress that Justice Anthony Kennedy seems to think it’s related to abortion, which Millhiser says bodes poorly for the ACA’s contraception mandate.
The high crime of being a Dem –> At The American Prospect, Steve Erickson writes, “On the right, impeachment has become the wildfire crucible, and the purest purity test yet,” and predicts that it will be an unspoken “stealth issue of the upcoming congressional contest.”
Speaking of the midterms –> At TNR, Nora Caplan-Bricker reports that House Dems will file a long-shot discharge petition on immigration reform today with the hope of making it a key issue in November.
Looming oligarchy –> Robert Reich writes on his eponymous blog that “the vast wealth that has accumulated at the top of the American economy is not itself the problem. The problem is that political power tends to rise to where the money is. And this combination of great wealth with political power leads to greater and greater accumulations and concentrations of both — tilting the playing field in favor of the Kochs and their ilk, and against the rest of us.” AND: WaPo’s Aaron Blake has a chart showing that the Koch brothers political machine is “dominating the Senate ad race.” ALSO, TOO: HuffPo’s Sam Stein notes that over half of the public has no clue who the Kochs are — but of those Americans who do know who they are, the percentage with a negative opinion is twice the percentage with a positive opinion.
Myths, busted –> Over at MoJo, Erika Eichelberger has 10 of them about poverty in America.
The high cost of cheap partisanship –> Donna Cassata reports for the AP that the GOP’s various BENGHAZI!!! probes have cost the DoD “millions of dollars and thousands of hours of personnel time.” Via TPM.
Badlands –> Franco Ordonez reports for McClatchy that “a wave of Border Patrol shooting deaths of unarmed civilians along the US-Mexico line has drawn bipartisan scrutiny.”
Oily characters –> At Grist, Heather Smith reports that after Occidental Petroleum kept telling the city of Carson, Calif., different stories about whether it planned to use fracking in its new wells, the city council simplified things by becoming the first municipality in the Golden State to ban all oil drilling. At least for now.
Not going well –> At TNR, John Judis predicts that John Kerry’s effort to forge a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians looks like it will hit a dead end. He mostly blames Bibi Netanyahu for negotiating in bad faith.
Get out the pitchforks –> Ryan Cooper argues at The Week that Thomas Picketty’s much-discussed new book detailing the history of inequality represents a direct threat to the 1 percent.
Sensationalism spreads fast –> Did you hear about the proposed Massachusetts law that would require people in divorce proceedings to get a judge’s OK before having sex in their own homes? David Bernstein reports for Boston Magazine that it’s nonsense, and then traces its rapid spread across multiple news outlets.
Oopsie daisy –> David Edwards reports for The Raw Story that an Oklahoma pastor is filled with remorse because “his attempt to remove demons from the United States had worked a little too well, causing a severe drought to turn into massive flooding” in Texas.
Reminder: you can get our Morning Reads delivered to your inbox every weekday! Just enter your email address below (we’ll never give it to anyone else).
Good morning! On this date in 1911, 145 workers, many of them immigrants, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City, unable to escape the locked doors of the sweatshop. The notoriously abusive bosses, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, were tried for manslaughter but acquitted. It did, however, prompt the city to finally enact some reforms.
Deep State –> Charlie Savage reports for the NYT that Obama is calling for the overhaul of the NSA’s bulk data collection program. BUT: At The Nation, William Greider argues that the intelligence agencies, rather than our elected officials, call the shots in Washington.
“How The Koch Brothers Are Hacking Science” –> Headline on energy economist Frank Ackerman’s piece at TPM about a Koch-backed think tank that “turns out study after study for right-wing, anti-government groups.”
A jury of one’s lawyers –> At TNR, Alec MacGillis writes that Chris Christie’s “exoneration by his own lawyers is even more conflicted than it looks.”
Burned betting big on Newt –> Matea Gold and Phillip Rucker at WaPo: “Billionaire mogul Sheldon Adelson looks for mainstream Republican who can win in 2016.”
Really? –> MoJo’s Chris Mooney reports that creationists aren’t only upset with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos for its discussion of climate change or evolution, but also because Tyson pointed out that comets aren’t “bad mojo” are pretty old.
The return of the idle rich –> Paul Krugman reviews Thomas Picketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, and explains how huge untaxed inheritances and a system tilted toward protecting the interests of the richest can easily lead to oligarchy.
Deadly mud –> As the death toll from the Oso, Washington mudslide rises, Eric Holthaus reports for Slate’s Future Tense blog that climate change may make such terrible events more common.
Cover-Up –> An investigation by CBS’s 60 Minutes unearthed a document that shows the Nixon administration covered up the My Lai massacre of over 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians for fear that it would hurt them politically.
Troll-in-chief –> The Obama administration is poking the tea party with a new Obamacare logo fashioned after their beloved “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag, reports Benny Johnson at Buzzfeed.
Blanck and Isaac, job creators –> This satirical 2012 Nashville Scene piece by Betsy Phillips celebrating the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company owners for creating jobs despite the yoke of government regulation is a classic.
A reminder that you can get our Morning Reads delivered to your inbox every weekday! Just enter your email address below (and we’ll never give it to anyone else) …
Comprehensive data released Friday by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights offers a striking glance at the extent of racial inequality plaguing the nation’s education system.
Analysts found that black, Latino and Native American students have less access to advanced math and science courses and are more likely to be taught by first-year instructors than white students. Black and Native American students are also suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates.
For the first time in history, the Education Department also examined school discipline at the pre-K level, finding that black students as young as 4 years old are already facing unequal treatment from school administrators. MORE
Intellectual contortions –> TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports that Antonin Scalia’s past rulings are going to force him to really stretch to justify ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby in the challenge to the ACA’s birth control mandate, but observers expect that he’s up to the job.
Military police –> “SWAT teams were deployed about 3,000 times in 1980 but are now used around 50,000 times a year.” The Economist reports on the militarization of domestic law enforcement.
Economic weapons –> Andrew Kramer reports for the NYT that Russia is putting an economic squeeze on Ukraine. ALSO: US oil and gas companies have close ties to their Russian state-owned counterparts, complicating the narrative that energy production can be wielded as a weapon in the current crisis. Steve Horn has the story for DeSmogBlog(via Truthout).
“There’s no way justice was done in this case” –> A Mississippi woman is scheduled to be executed on Thursday for a murder her son confessed to committing. Nicole Flatow reports for ThinkProgress that jurors weren’t allowed to hear the evidence that might have cleared her.
“This is a stupid narrative” –> So says Salon’s Elias Isquith of the notion that Rand Paul is going to turn millennials into stalwart Republicans.
Stealth attack –> Direct assaults on Social Security are politically hazardous, but Michael Hiltzik reports for the LAT that the program’s opponents keep engineering cuts to its administrative budget in a campaign to make it dysfunctional.
Let’s hope he doesn’t kill any young reporters –> Kevin Spacey is lobbying the Maryland legislature as it considers increasing a tax credit for film production, most of which has been gobbled up by his Netflix hit, House of Cards. The show’s producers have threatened to pull out of the state if the money doesn’t flow, reports Katherine Faulders for ABC News.
Crying “wolf” –> UC-Berkeley economists Michael Reich and Ken Jacobs write in the NYT that none of the dire predictions about job destruction have proven true after previous minimum wage hikes.
You can get our Morning Reads delivered to your inbox every weekday! Just enter your email address below (and we’ll never give it to anyone else) …
Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next US Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination. February 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The post of the surgeon general has been vacant since July and it looks likely to remain that way for some time thanks to a strident campaign led by the National Rifle Association and libertarian Senator Rand Paul against President Obama’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Murthy has medical and business degrees from Yale, works as an attending physician and instructor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School and has founded several health businesses and nonprofits. He has also expressed support for limited gun safety measures like a ban on assault weapons, mandatory safety training and limits on ammunition and so the NRA has declared it will “score” his confirmation vote, putting pressure on Senate Democrats running tight re-election races in red states to block Murthy’s confirmation. As The New York Timesreported, the White House is “recalibrating” its strategy towards Murthy’s nomination, meaning the Senate vote will either be delayed or never happen.
This isn’t the first time the NRA has held up a nominee: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went without a director for seven years because of opposition from the gun lobby. But never before has the group set itself so strongly against a surgeon general nominee. So why now? The NRA said Murthy’s “blatant activism on behalf of gun control” attracted their attention.
But the gun lobby’s campaign against Murthy isn’t really about his record, or him at all. His positions on guns are hardly radical or even activist and his views are consistent with those of the majority of Americans. Polling indicates that the public is far more supportive of new gun control laws than members of Congress or, certainly, the NRA.
Furthermore, Murthy’s views represent a consensus among medical professionals that gun violence is a major public health issue. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year, about the same number as car accidents. Cars are highly regulated for health and safety; guns, barely. Accordingly, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among many others, have called for stronger gun safety laws. It would be surprising if, as a doctor, Murthy did not have concerns about gun violence and the strength of current regulations.
The campaign against Murthy is the continuation of a longstanding effort to make discussion of gun violence taboo. For years the NRA has worked to bury information about gun violence and its public health implications.
With public health professionals engaging more forcefully on the gun issue, the NRA has a pressing interest in muting their calls for stronger policy. Really, the campaign against Murthy is the continuation of a longstanding effort to make discussion of gun violence taboo. For years the NRA has worked to bury information about gun violence and its public health implications. The NRA has campaigned successfully to ban registries that collect data on guns used in crimes and in 1996 the group fought for and won legislation that froze federal funding for research on gun violence. Although Obama lifted the restriction last year in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, there’s still very little money — federal and private — for gun research and not enough data, said David Hemenway, an expert on injury at the Harvard School of Public Health.
On the local level, the NRA has tried to bar pediatricians from counseling parents about the risks of keeping guns at home. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that doctors begin to talk to parents about gun safety even before their baby is born and continue the conversation yearly, just as doctors talk to parents about the dangers of swimming pools and the importance of bicycle helmets. Florida passed a gag law in 2011; crafted by an NRA lobbyist, the bill forbids doctors from “making written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient or by a family member of the patient.” A district court ruled the following year that the law restricted physicians’ rights to free speech and the case is now in the appeals process. Murthy’s opposition to pediatrician gag laws was one of the reasons cited by the NRA and Rand Paul in their attempt to disqualify him.
When she ordered a permanent injunction against the Florida law in 2012, District Judge Marcia Cooke wrote that the law “in no way affects [Second Amendment] rights” and instead “aims to restrict a practitioner’s ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient.” The same can be said of the NRA’s objection to the Surgeon General nominee, who won’t be involved in crafting gun policy. The threat to the NRA is that the surgeon general will merely talk about gun violence, in fulfilling his or her duty to provide the public with “the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce their risk of illness and injury.”
While the NRA’s political clout comes from its individual members, the group serves the agenda of gun industry. What’s really going on with Murthy’s confirmation is that an industry group is trying to keep the government from regulating its products. This isn’t a new battle: the tobacco industry fought it, as have many other industries with financial interests in evading health and safety regulations.
What’s really going on with Murthy’s confirmation is that an industry group is trying to keep the government from regulating its products.
“Most industries try to protect themselves — the less regulation the better, the less oversight the better. They want to pursue their sales,” said Hemenway. “I think it’s almost time for a surgeon general statement about guns, like we had with cigarettes and cancer, particularly about guns and suicide.”
While the industry’s goals aren’t exceptional, its success at evading regulation is, said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center. “Guns are a consumer product. We’ve taken a public health approach to reducing product-related injury for every other product, from automobiles, to toys, to airplanes. Every product is regulated from a health and safety perspective with the goal of reducing accident and injury. The only exception is guns,” Rand said.
Murthy’s assurance that he does not intend to use the surgeon general’s office “as a bully pulpit on gun control” failed to appease the NRA. Perhaps appeasement is the wrong tack. The only way to curb the gun industry’s outsized influence is if people like the surgeon general do talk about gun violence and advocate for more research and data, not less.
“The surgeon general’s role is to educate the public about how to live healthier, safer lives and one of biggest injury-producing mechanisms in America today are guns. It’s obviously an area where he should be involved,” said Rand. “What the NRA fears is having someone with a bully pulpit who has solid information and is giving people the facts. The NRA fears information.”
Democrats also need to stand up for freedom of speech and information. The midterm map presents a real challenge, as the Senate races most important to Democrats are in deep red states — Louisiana, Arkansas, Montana, Alaska — where public opinion on gun control is far more conservative than it is nationally. Still, it’s far from clear that the NRA’s endorsement is worth groveling for. The NRA can easily whip up hundreds of gun owners to flood Senate offices with calls expressing outrage over Murthy’s nomination, but there is some evidence that the group’s electoral influence is much less significant than its effect on policymaking and nominations. According to a statistical analysis conducted by Paul Waldman in 2012, “The NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections. The NRA endorsement, so coveted by so many politicians, is almost meaningless. Nor does the money the organization spends have any demonstrable impact on the outcome of races.” [Emphasis his.]
Jackson's late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba at a fundraising luncheon of 500 people for Operation Shoestring, a nonprofit group that does education and mentoring programs for low-income residents of central Jackson. November 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis).
On February 25, Chokwe Lumumba, the mayor of Jackson, Miss., died suddenly, reportedly of a heart attack. He was 66 years old.
In the 1960s, Lumumba co-founded the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black nationalist organization that advocated for reparations and for the creation of a separate republic with a “predominantly black government” in the southeastern states. A prominent civil rights attorney, Lumumba once helped rapper Tupac Shakur clear himself of aggravated assault charges, and as a member of the Jackson Human Rights Coalition he pressed Mississippi for a retrial in the murder case of Medgar Evers, the NAACP’s first field officer in the state.
According to The New York Times, Lumumba was a respected civic leader who ran for city council in 2009 and was “urged by neighbors and politicians” to run for mayor last year. He won with 87 percent of the vote. His Timesobituary notes that political office didn’t temper his revolutionary views.
In an interview last year he continued to defend the Republic of New Afrika. The day after his election, he raised hackles by questioning Columbus’s historical importance. And at his inauguration, he could not resist raising his fist in the black power salute and shouting an old slogan: “Free the Land!”
Good morning! Forty-nine years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr., and 3,200 other civil rights activists set out from Selma, Ala., on a march to Montgomery, the state capital, to demand their right to vote. Less than two weeks earlier, a smaller group of activists — including current Rep. John Lewis — had been viciously attacked attempting a similar march. In August of that year, President Johnson would sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Cold War redux –> At TNR, Julia Ioffe argues that the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia on Wednesday will hurt Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, but may blow back on Russian liberals if the oligarchs lash out at them in response. And while Republicans are complaining that the restrictions don’t go far enough, Erik Wasson reports for The Hill that their corporate allies have been lobbying behind the scenes to keep the sanctions limited in scope.
The struggle continues –> A year after the Supreme Court eliminated the most powerful provision of the Voting Rights Act, Zachary Roth reports for MSNBC that conservatives appear to be preparing an assault on another one.
Kochtupus –> Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report for WaPo that a subsidiary of Koch Industries is the biggest leaseholder in Canada’s tar sands. While the connection is indirect, the finding calls into question the company’s claim that “Koch Industries have absolutely nothing to do with Keystone XL (KXL).” ALSO: Carl Hulse and Ashley Parker report for the NYT that the Kochs’ Americans For Prosperity is “spending freely” to hone its anti-government message and turn-out-the-vote techniques.
Zero tolerance for little kids –> Kimberly Hefling and Jesse Holland report for the AP that thousands of preschoolers are being suspended in the US, and they’re disproportionately black. Educators say that in most cases, extra support would be more effective than sending them home.
Sneaky –> Salon’s Alex Pareene argues that presidential draft campaigns, like the new one to draft Ted Cruz, are a scam to get your money and email address.
Mystery ship –> Eric Schmitt reports for the NYT that US officials are wondering why Iran seems to be building a large-scale model of an American aircraft carrier.
Due process –> Thirteen Americans — all Muslims, one a Marine vet — have sued the government for putting them on the no-fly list, which doesn’t include any process for review. Noel Brinkerhoff has the details at AllGov.com.
Thanks, guys –> Lindsay Abrams at Salon: “Exxon agrees to look into this whole climate change thing.”
Quiet crisis –> Previous studies had shown that the long-term unemployed faced discrimination and other difficulties re-entering the workforce, but a new study concludes that if they do land a gig, “15 months later, they’re more than twice as likely to have left than to have settled into steady, full-time employment.” Catherine Hollander reports for The National Journal.
Public money –> North Carolina charter schools say they’re not required to release data on how much they pay their teachers. But Ann Doss Helms reports for The Charlotte Observer that the legislature, which will fork over $304 million to the private companies this year, is now challenging that notion.
Obstruction works for some –> Obama says that Congress’ inability to legislate with divided government plays a major role in turning off traditional Democratic constituencies during midterm elections, according to Justin Sink at The Hill.
He advanced LGBT rights –> At Truthdig, Peter Scheer writes that Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, who died yesterday, was so hateful that he ended up hurting the religious right’s efforts to block LGBT rights.
Enjoy your day –> Here’s a viral vid of Rep. John Lewis dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy.”
Don’t forget: you can sign up to get our Morning Reads delivered to your inbox every weekday! Just enter your email address below — unlike the draft Cruz campaign, we swear we won’t give it to anyone else…
The mounting tensions in southeastern Ukraine may hand the American natural gas industry one of its biggest policy victories in years.
Citing the Kremlin’s nefarious energy influence over Ukraine and Europe at large — Kiev gets about 60 percent of its gas supply from Russia, the EU 30 percent — Congress is making moves that would ostensibly unleash a flood of gas overseas from America’s comparatively friendly shores. Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Mike Turner (R-OH) each introduced bills earlier this month to supposedly fast-track liquefied natural gas exports to the regions. Mark Udall (D-CO), meanwhile, sponsored similar legislation in the Senate.
Under existing law, companies wishing to export natural gas must apply first to the Department of Energy, then to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The DOE automatically approves applications to export to countries that share free trade agreements with the United States — countries without such deals, like Ukraine, require a lengthier review process. Each of the four bills aims to speed up that part of the review.
Poe’s bill, the Fight Russian Energy Exploitation (FREE) Act, adds the EU, Ukraine and a number of Central Asian countries to the expedited approval process. Turner and Udall’s bills add the WTO countries, which include Ukraine. Gardner’s, meanwhile, adds the WTO countries and triggers the automatic approval of pending applications for which a notice has been issued in the Federal Register.
The bills’ sponsors claim the legislation will help bolster Ukraine and the rest of the EU’s energy supplies against Russian influence.
But Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, maintains the latest push for reforms has little to do with Crimea or Russia. Instead, he says, it’s about an industry seeking timely justification for its long-term interests. A change in permit policy today would likely pay major dividends in the future, when domestic producers are actually able to move gas abroad in large quantities.
“This has nothing to do with national security,” Slocum says, “It has nothing to do with benefiting consumers. … It has everything to do with increasing the financial returns and profits of entities directly involved in domestic fracking.”
Fracking’s new frontier
Exports are a logical step for oil and gas producers intent on accessing new markets.
Over the last decade, the combination of horizontal drilling and fracking in American shale formations — such as the Bakken and Marcellus — has driven soaring production and lower natural gas prices across the country. But the boom has been restricted to domestic markets, which now wrestle with overproduction and oversupply. So in recent years, producers have set their sights on foreign soil, where American-drilled gas could fetch far higher prices than it does at home. In Asia, for example, LNG is about five times as expensive as it is in the United States.
In recent years, producers have set their sights on foreign soil, where American-drilled gas could fetch far higher prices than it does at home. In Asia, for example, LNG is about five times as expensive as it is in the United States.
“Producers, particularly in the Marcellus shale but elsewhere as well, have limited opportunities to move their cask to meet global demand,” says Slocum. “So this is all about [trying] to globalize natural gas prices, because price differences are vast between Europe and Asia and North America because of isolation of the market. If you’re able to globalize that, you’re able to sell your fracked gas for far more [and] earn more profits.”
To that end, American oil and gas producers are aggressively trying to liberalize export policy. The industry’s leading lobbying organizations, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), have publicly backed expediting LNG permits and boosting exports since well before the situation in Crimea garnered international attention. In February of this year, a group of mostly Gulf Coast-based companies unveiled a new coalition designed to win support on the Hill for export reform — “Our Energy Moment.” (That group, too, is now publicly tying the issue of gas exports to Ukraine.)
And though the flare-up in the Black Sea supposedly inspired the recent push, many of the members of Congress supportive of the four new bills have backed similar legislation in the past. Last June, for instance, Rep. Poe introduced a bill that would remove the Department of Energy from the LNG export permitting process entirely. Just a few months after that, he authored legislation that would put a 60-day limit on the DOE’s review of export applications — the failure to issue a decision would trigger automatic approval. Rep. Turner also introduced a similar version of his 2014 bill in February 2013.
The same story goes for Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who last Wednesday tried to attach an amendment to a congressional aide package for Ukraine that would expedite the LNG permitting process. (Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez ruled the move out of order.) It’s a familiar subject for the Cowboy State’s junior senator: Last year, Barrasso introduced legislation to streamline export permits to NATO countries and Japan.
The disingenuousness of the whole affair has Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, crying foul. He calls the crisis in Crimea a “convenient excuse” for pro-LNG members of Congress.
“It’s insulting in that the appeal is so base,” Grijalva says. “And the XL [pipeline] is essential in helping Ukraine too,” he says sarcastically — a reference, perhaps, to recent comments from Paul Ryan that linked U.S. influence in Ukraine to construction of the Keystone.
Natural gas to the rescue? Not quite
While they’re broadly supportive of these efforts, representatives of the gas producers themselves are still quick to acknowledge that changing existing rules would have no immediate impact in terms of foreign aide.
“You cannot just turn on the spigot and begin sending natural gas to Ukraine,” says Dan Whitten, spokesperson for America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). “It will take some time to build the terminals, get the contracts in place to have that done. We hope that the pace of progress will speed up, but we’re not of the view that you can just decide to start exporting and then begin doing it tomorrow.”
That’s because the industry lacks the capacity do so. As of today, there’s not a single facility in the United States that’s shipping liquefied natural gas abroad.
The nation’s first LNG export terminal, Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass on the border between Texas and Louisiana, isn’t scheduled to start shipping gas until late 2015. And according to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, any other facilities aren’t likely to export before 2017 or 2018.
Still, according to some in the industry, the bills are necessary to prevent future crises from taking place. “You have to start somewhere,” says Julia Bell, spokesperson for the IPAA. “And if we had started this a few years ago then we probably wouldn’t be in the position that we are right now, with Russia exerting its energy influence the way it is.”
The gas producers’ major players won’t officially back any of the particular proposals, though, until they see how things shake out in the House and Senate.
“We’re just waiting to see which one Congress rallies behinds,” says Bell. “And we’re going to support that.” ANGA maintains a similar stance.
And the fate of the bills themselves remains equally uncertain. Any of the four pieces of legislation would likely pass the Republican-dominated House, which has proven more than loyal to the fossil fuel industry. Things would be more complicated in the Senate, where many Democrats take their cues from the administration.
Energy Secretary Moniz has acknowledged that speeding up permits would do little to help Ukraine in the short-term, but said he “welcome[s] consultation” with Congress on reforming the export approval process.
The biggest wild card is Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the new chair of the Senate Energy Committee and longtime champion of oil and gas interests. Public Citizen’s Slocum worries that a yes vote in the House on any one of the bills could provide impetus for Landrieu to move along similar legislation in her committee.
Landrieu has publicly pressured the DOE to approve two export facilities in Louisiana, which has enough pending applications to make it a major transport hub. She’s also very supportive of gas exports in general.
And as the senator faces a tough re-election campaign — polls give her GOP opponent a slight edge — it’s probably in her best interest to stay on industry’s good side. Only two senators, both Republicans facing Tea Party challengers, have taken more money from energy companies than Landrieu has this election cycle — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX).
Ultimately, environmentalists can only hope that reason triumphs in the end over corporate interest. Sadly, that’s never a given when legislators tackle energy policy.
“We’re physically unable to make [exports] happen,” says Slocum. “But that doesn’t matter in terms of their campaign, as long as they can make people believe there’s a connection.”
“Florida’s gruesome execution theater” –> The Intercept’s Liliana Segura writes in WaPo that the Sunshine State will execute a man using a problematic chemical agent, and that it fits a history of the state’s gruesome implementation of the death penalty.
How’s that re-branding effort going? At TAP, Paul Waldman says that a year after the GOP’s much discussed “autopsy report,” the party hasn’t changed and doesn’t have much incentive to do so.
A real IRS scandal –> David Cay Johnston blows the lid on waste, favoritism and abusive labor practices at the IRS’ New York offices.
Pay-it-forward –> Michigan becomes the latest state to consider a plan that allows students to attend college tuition-free, to be financed with a small share of their future earnings. David Jesse reports for the Detroit Free Press.
The Devil didn’t go down to Georgia –> But the Moral Mondays movement did, and it’s fighting to get the Peach State to expand Medicaid. Tara Culp-Ressler reports for Think Progress that while 40 activists were arrested on Tuesday, the legislature went ahead with a measure to block the governor from insuring 600,000 Georgians.
Rumors of death… exaggerated –> Ed Kilgore looks at the latest Obamascare hype — and the anonymous sources fueling its fire — at The Washington Monthly.
In a rare move, the world’s largest scientific society released a report nudging the public to wake up to the scientifically sound and increasingly frightening reality of climate change.
“As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) wrote in the introduction to its new report, “What We Know.” “But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”
“They are very clearly saying that we as the scientific community are completely convinced, based upon the evidence, that climate change is happening and human-caused,” said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. “The more people understand that the experts have reached this agreement, the more they in turn decide, ‘well, then I think it’s happening, and I think it’s human-caused, and I think it’s a serious problem, and in turn it increases people’s support for policy.” MORE